Research Fellow Feature: Mackenzie Davenport, PhD

Published on Fri, 02/17/2023

Mackenzie Davenport, PhD 
University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, US

Muscle disease has long been a primary area of interest for Dr. Mackenzie Davenport, PhD. As a junior at East Tennessee State University in the United States, she created a replica fundraiser of a Superhero-themed 5K to raise money for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), an event that she organized for two years. She also attended the FDA advisory committee meeting for the drug Eteplirsen, the first drug approved for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), when she was a senior at East Tennessee State University. These experiences helped propel her already established research interests in genetic disorders to those in which muscle wasting and weakness is a primary phenotype.

Then for her doctoral studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the United States she focused on the role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in lung and breast cancer pathogenesis. In this work, she established disease and tissue/cell specific functions of miRNAs in lung cancer, identified compensatory pathways upregulated when miRNAs are targeted using gene editing, and identified new miRNAs as novel regulators of metastasis-suppressing genes in breast cancer. During her studies, Dr. Davenport gained invaluable expertise in molecular and RNA biology, cell culture, and animal models of disease. For her postdoctoral studies, she wanted to pursue topics more closely aligned to her primary interests in muscle disease; however, she still wanted to maximize the skillset and knowledge that she had gained during her dissertation studies. She believed Dr. Maurice Swanson’s lab at the University of Florida in the United States and the study of myotonic dystrophy (DM) was a natural choice to merge the two. She states that her position working with her mentor Dr. Swanson gives her “the tremendous opportunity to merge my research interests and pursue the questions to which I’m most excited about finding the answers”. Her long-term goal is to pursue a tenure-track faculty position at an academic medical institution where she can establish her own research lab and conduct meaningful research that improves patients’ lives.

The project she is working on, “Regenerative failure in myotonic dystrophy: pathomechanisms and insights from a novel model of improved regeneration”, is a collaboration between Dr. Swanson’s lab, who are DM experts, and Dr. Malcolm Maden, who is a world-renowned expert in regeneration. In recent years, it has been shown that the African spiny mouse, Acomys cahirinus, has remarkable regenerative capabilities, including the ability to repeatedly regenerate its muscle perfectly following repetitive cardiotoxin-induced injury. This is the first mammal ever shown to regenerate following such injuries, and thus opens nearly countless new avenues of study. The goal of this study is to investigate the role of muscle regenerative failure in contributing to muscle wasting in DM and translate the pro-regenerative findings from spiny mice to traditional DM mouse models. Here, they plan to identify pro-regenerative genes from the spiny mouse injury model that modulate regeneration and subsequently test the ability of these genes to promote rapid muscle regeneration and prevent muscle wasting in mouse DM1 and DM2 models as a prelude to developing therapeutic strategies to treat the advanced stages of these diseases.

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Published on February 17th, 2023.